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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Remembering Achmat Dangor, the South African novelist who redefined id

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In his 71 years, Achmat Dangor was many issues to many individuals, each in South Africa and internationally. He was a lifelong activist and social justice advocate. He was as soon as banned for his political actions in resistance to apartheid. He was a cultural chief on the centre of the Congress of South African Writers, a tireless growth organiser and, for six years, the chief government of the Nelson Mandela Basis. For me, he was above all a unprecedented novelist and poet who expanded how I believe.

I used to be a graduate scholar when, fairly by probability, I picked up a duplicate of Dangor’s 1997 novel Kafka’s Curse in Unique Books in Johannesburg. It was 2001 and I used to be beginning to write my dissertation proposal. I learn Kafka’s Curse and realised that I needed to change matters, such was the influence of the novella on my mental life.

It stays a formative novel in my understanding of South African tradition, and a favorite novel as a result of sheer pleasure to be present in its writing, in its attractive prose and magical, legendary panorama.

The complexity of tradition

In Kafka’s Curse the characters shift and remodel. The protagonist Oscar Kahn is revealed to be Omar Khan, each colored and Muslim, who has handed as Jewish and white by altering two letters of his title. His spouse leaves him as his sickness progresses, an sickness which poisons his lungs and turns his pores and skin into bark simply as Nelson Mandela turns into South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

In some ways, Dangor’s fiction represented the shifts that South African literature and tradition underwent within the early days of the nation’s transition to democracy. His was a concentrate on the connection between race, reminiscence and apartheid constructions.

Each the shape and the content material of his novels spotlight the ambiguous character of id and historical past. They provide a fancy and nuanced various to dominant understandings of South Africa, ones that moved away from a logic of black and white, good and dangerous, previous and current, and right into a textured and complicated conception of the nation’s tradition.


Pantheon Books

They actually modified my very own understandings of my world. Kafka’s Curse confirmed me that South Africans weren’t at all times one factor or one other, however needed to deny the complexities of id in an effort to match into apartheid’s system of racial categorisation.

In a post-apartheid context, Dangor’s characters reveal the irrepressible mixture of South African identities. In Kafka’s Curse he utilized the legend of Majnoen to South African tradition in a brief novel written of wealthy prose that’s usually described as magical realist by way of style. In an interview with Daring Kind journal, he himself described it as follows:

The traditional Arabic legend of Leila and Majnoen (‘a reputation in addition to a insanity’) is a cautionary ethical story: tamper with the hierarchy of a society’s construction and also you threaten its orderliness, and therefore its very existence.

Ask the Caliph who prompted his daughter Leila and her lover Majnoen a lot struggling: his caliphate in all probability didn’t endure so long as their legend.

The legend of Majnoen in South Africa turns into a narrative of putting up with love that defies despotic rule. Apartheid meanings are interrogated from the factors that it denied existed – the ambiguities or overlaps between its strains of racial categorisation. That is embodied by the determine of Oscar/Omar.

Like once I first learn it, these ambiguities unravel what my very own graduate college students suppose they know once I educate this ebook at present. Kafka’s Curse muddies the road between the imagined and the lived actuality of racial constructions.

The uncertainty of the previous

In his internationally acclaimed 2001 novel Bitter Fruit, Dangor continued his investigation of ambiguity by exploring the road between silence and talking up. He did this by wanting on the influence of the Reality and Reconciliation Fee (TRC), arrange by the Mandela authorities to take care of the atrocities of apartheid. Whereas Kafka’s Curse explored these points round South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, Bitter Fruit handled related points across the second election in 1999. Its focus was the uncertainties of historical past and reminiscence.

A painting of a pomegranate torn open on the cover of a book.

Atlantic Books

Bitter Fruit was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004 and might be Dangor’s best-known work. Set in city Johannesburg, the narrative focuses on Silas and Lydia Ali and their son Mikey. As their relationships start to unravel on the finish of the Mandela presidency, silence surrounds the characters’ pasts as a counterpoint towards which to look at the influence of the TRC as a type of cultural articulation.

How will we take care of our previous and the uncertainties of historical past, Dangor asks, in a novel that floats backwards and forwards between current and previous, speech and silence, private and non-private.

Bitter Fruit’s three sections – reminiscence, confession and retribution – act as counterpoints towards which the TRC’s processes of communicate, grieve and heal are located. He doesn’t supply any neat options, however traces other ways of coping with our previous. In a lot the identical means that the TRC couldn’t assemble a unified concept of South African historical past however merely provided one piece of a fragmentary story, Dangor illustrated the paradox inherent within the varied methods we synthesise that previous as people and as a society as a complete.

In every of his books, he explored questions that shifted these kinds of cultural debates. Dangor’s final novel, Dikeledi (2017), sits on my bedside desk and I ponder what new information lies inside its pages for me to find, what questions shall be explored that I can’t articulate myself.

Relaxation in peace Achmat Dangor, my trainer in novelistic kind.

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